Thursday, November 5, 2015

"I'm Home" - Travelogue, Part II

As with any "log" sort of entry, I'm mostly keeping this story of my trip for my own records - but I hope you readers enjoy what is a bit of a more personal and detailed account than the posts on this blog usually are. After I've written all of this down, I'll go back to the more conventional topics!

My former JTE had arranged with 〇〇 High School for us to drop by around lunchtime - it was exam week, so lunch was really the only viable time. They also warned me that the other teachers "might" be too busy to be around. This was a bit disappointing (and I was afraid that it was a gentle tactic to dissuade me from coming on such a busy day) but I was supposed to be prepared to leave for Hokkaido the following morning - a Saturday - so this was my only option.

In the morning I borrowed a bicycle from Mari-sensei's husband and took it on a long ride, up to where I used to do aikido until it became far too cold to bike 40 minutes in winter. (Even an Osakan winter.) There was a hobby shop up there that I was looking forward to visiting. I would stop there after aikido, even though that was after 8 PM, and find the most wonderful little collector's items. I was a bit hazy on the details of where the place was (it had been 8 years, and it wasn't winter, or dark) so I pedalled around a bit trying to find the sports complex so that I could pretend that I was leaving the dojo to go home. I did eventually get there - unfortunately, when I arrived, I found that the shop was permanently closed. I looked out at the familiar sign in the parking lot and felt that sort of nostalgic regret of an experience you didn't even know you needed to have again, just vanishing. I biked back toward the school, and even found another (lesser) hobby shop on the way, but there was something lost by not being able to go to my place. It was my first experience in 〇〇 City of the familiarities of "home" disappearing. I'm sure there will be many more, the further in years I am removed from my tenure in Japan.

At the intersection, kids were streaming out of the schoolyard. That was a pleasant nostalgic jolt - I almost never approached the school from that angle (my apartment was in the opposite direction from the hobby shop) and the school yearbook annually featured a photo of the students leaving school taken from that same vantage point, pushing their bikes up the hill. :')

I parked in the Staff parking - looking around for my own mama-chari, which I'd left in the staff parking five years prior before handing the keys to a co-worker to keep - and wandered in. Again there was that "stranger in my own house" feeling as I walked past students who looked at me with curiosity. I wore a pair of guest slippers and marvelled at how the genkan had been updated; the shoe boxes moved. Upstairs, though, things were much the same as ever. The English department hadn't changed an ounce. Even my own old landline phone number, written by a previous JET and now long disconnected, was still scrawled on the chalkboard. My desk was occupied by a new ALT, but the trimmings were the same. Same yellow LAN cable, map, cork board and pencil drawer. Same magnets on the metal box. We sat in the chairs we'd always sat and I talked with O-sensei, my former deskmate; and K-sensei, who'd been at the school the longest and I was sure would have been transferred away by then. I was so relieved to see her!

T-sensei was eating lunch upstairs in the library, warming up by the gas stove, so we went up to visit. I didn't spend much time in the library, but I recognized the books there. An English copy of Alex Haley's "Roots" always caught my eye in its regular spot by the door. Somewhere, there was a very rare Kodansha English edition of the first printing of Rose of Versailles, published 1983, that I had taken home from the glass cabinet once to read, shortly before meeting Frederik Schodt in Shibuya for his Astro Boy Essays book launch. It was one of my very first trips to Tokyo.

Y-sensei was in the department heads' office, where he confided to me that he would be retiring from the school the following month. I had been very lucky to visit at the time I did, else he and probably K-sensei would most likely be gone. Tension was a bit high, I thought, as everyone waited to see who would be transferred after exams. I remembered when my other JTE had been transferred away from 〇〇 High School during my final year, and how devastated she was. Mari-sensei reminded me of that during the visit - how we used to call her Pink-chan because, like me, she loved the colour pink. She always wore her hair in the same way, in little clips. It was really cute. <3 I wish I could have seen her during this visit.

We went for a walk around to visit my old classroom, read the exchange students' postcards in the trophy case, and poke our heads into various rooms. I think maybe this was Mari-sensei's first time back since retirement as well. I was very grateful that she and T-sensei were able to arrange the visit, needless to say. I visited the lounge to take some photos there. (The lounge will have its own post someday.)

Once we had chatted and exchanged omiyage and taken photos, I felt obliged to head out - it was a busy week for them, after all. I said farewell to Mari-sensei and rode the bicycle back to 〇〇-〇〇 Station to catch a train. It was time for my second appointment of the day, a visit to the Japan Foundation Kansai Institute, where I'd done a short language study at the beginning of my time on JET.

I really wanted to re-visit this place - it made quite an impression on me during my earliest days in Osaka. I never blogged about that particular experience, which makes it harder to recall, but it's one of the early defining moments. We stayed in the dorms at the Institute and attended Japanese lessons during the daytime, and explored Rinku Town by night. There was a little JET gathering on the beach and I swam in Osaka Bay, fully clothed, on a particularly warm night. (Probably not the best idea.) I remember the view of the bridge and the airport from the cafeteria, the lunch trays of tonkatsu, and browsing the library, inspecting Detective Conan VHS tapes and spending the half-hour breaks between classes watching the original Pocket Monsters on TV in my dorm room. I bought a satellite dish at Yodobashi Camera as soon as I returned from the Kansai Institute, so that I could get the same TV channels I'd seen there.

Anyway, neither the Institute nor Rinku Town had changed much, so I spent a lovely afternoon there meeting the librarians and browsing their collection, and then I went to the shops to browse before returning to 〇〇 City. I fell in love with some bikes at Asahi Cycle. (More on this in my fanatical post about Dutch bikes.) I ate at CoCo Ichiban, one of my favourite lunch spots. I hemmed over a dilemma on how I was supposed to pay for the teacups I bought on Yahoo! auctions now that they don't accept overseas credit cards, and tried to get a vanilla visa to help with that, but the clerk didn't think it would work, so I gave up and had to ask Nicole (of Irish Chocolate fame) to pay for it for me. Eventually, I got on the train and went home to have another bath and pack up for an early morning. I drank tea with Mari-sensei and we ate bakery treats (she's so thoughtful!) as she told me about her volunteer singing work at the local old folks' home. Then I went upstairs to pack my things - Mari-sensei had offered to let me leave my big suitcase behind while we were in Tohoku and Hokkaido.

The following morning I set out early for Kyoto to visit Tenzan-no-Yu while I was still a solo traveller. Cass is not a big onsen fan and we had enough of them planned that I wanted to get at least this one out of the way when I was alone. Unfortunately I definitely felt the strain of no time, and no mobile Internet (the charge hadn't taken on the pocket wifi) and it wasn't as relaxing a soak as I'd hoped. I didn't even buy anything from Bambocheur! Yet I still managed to leave late and miss the bus and therefore miss the shinkansen I wanted and have to text Mitsu from the train to ask him to pick up Cassie from the airport. Even worse, I'd told Cass to meet me at the Haneda Starbucks - I wanted to buy the Haneda tumbler - and Mitsu informed me that the Starbucks was in the domestic terminal, not the international one!! So I spent the ride from Kyoto to Tokyo to Hamamatsu very stressed, but luckily Mitsu found her, and I found the two of them thanks to mobile Skype. Most of the day was lost to travelling (Tenzan is not exactly close to 〇〇 City) and we then had to pick up Cassie's Rail Pass, at Tokyo Station since the Haneda office was closed by the time she arrived. We barely managed to have the energy to eat fluffy omurice before heading to our hostel in Asakusa. Mitsu was really disappointed that we only spent a little bit of time with him, but it couldn't be helped. Cassie was tired, and therefore murderous; and we needed to be in Tohoku the following day!